Chicken chunks made from peas bring in investors
A start up company that makes peas into chicken chunks has already attracted $1.2 million from international angel investors.
Kiwi investors were given the same opportunity after Sunfed Meats founder and chief executive Shama Lee pitched her plant-based chicken product to them at the New Zealand Agribusiness Investment Showcase near Palmerston North. The chicken is made from yellow peas imported from Canada in a process undisclosed for commercial reasons, and tastes and looks like chicken.
Lee was among 11 start up companies presenting their ideas to business investors with deep pockets at the New Zealand Trade and Enterprise function on Thursday night.
She said producing meat from animals was costly and inefficient, with scandals causing multi-billion dollar losses overseas, and plant protein was a better way to produce meat.
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Animals were poor converters of feed to protein and as living and breathing creatures would never be as efficient as the plant technology replaced by Sunfed. About five times the amount of chicken could be produced from a pea growing site than if birds produced the meat.
"What if we could skip the animal in the food chain and if we did it would become more efficient and a less costly system ... and that's exactly what we have done."
Lee said chicken was chosen by the Sunfed team including her partner, Hayden Lee, because it was the fastest growing meat and set to replace pork, and was the most affordable meat.
Two United States venture capitalists and a United Kingdon investor pledged $1.2m which will allow the Auckland company to take the product to market. That has given them enough funds to build the first plant based meat processing facility in Australasia. Some of the partners have invested in similar ventures before and this knowledge will be put to good use.
Further investment is being sought so Sunfed can buy its own manufacturing plant to increase the production capacity. The chicken chunks - like boneless and skinless chicken - have been trialled by partners in food service, fast food and retail outlets. They contain more protein and iron than conventional chicken.
The target market is wider than the expected early adopters of vegans and vegetarians, and would extend to more people not wanting to eat meat some days.
Yellow peas come from the largest producing nation of Canada, but eventually it was hoped the product would stimulate growing of them in New Zealand as well as pulses and legumes which were nitrogen fixing and did not use much fertiliser.
The research development phase was completed by a major university in New Zealand and processing details were closely guarded.
"I can tell you that's made out of peas but I can't tell you how we make it into chicken. Importantly, It tastes like chicken."
Lee's background was in software programming and technical architecture and after feeling unfulfilled, she quit her job and out of that the Sunfed idea was born.
Research into cultured meat from stem cell research seemed to her to not be viable commercially in the near future so she looked to plant technology.
The Lees put a loan on their house mortgage to get them through the first phase of the business before seeking investment money to take the product further.
Lee said starts-ups in high protein meat and bypassing animals were drawing in investors overseas with $108 million and US$17 raised in other ventures.